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Poor pitches down to UEFA, says French grass association

By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) - Uefa has been accused of "scandalously" trying to pass the buck over the state of playing surfaces at Euro 2016.

A French grass association said that much of the criticism over sub-standard pitches should instead be directed at Europe's governing body whose pitch consultant was to blame.

UEFA on Friday said it was unhappy about the state of pitches at the tournament, in particular in Marseille, Saint Denis -- where the showcase Stade de France is located -- and Lille, and appeared to point the finger at stadium owners and clubs.

There was further dismay on Sunday after France's game against Switzerland in Lille where groundsmen were forced at halftime to try to patch up a cut-up pitch at the Stade Pierre Mauroy as players slid repeatedly.

"The organisers of the competition want to clear themselves of any responsibility by discrediting the highly qualified professionals, who are experts of French pitches," the French Grass Company (SFG), an association that encompasses all elements of the grass industry, said in a statement.

"This stance is at the very least scandalous, when we know these (experts) were systematically excluded in any of the decision-making process and their advice ignored," the SFG said.

Almost halfway through the month-long, 24-team tournament, the demands on pitches have never been greater at a European Championship. Some stadiums are hosting six games and wet weather across France is visibly having an impact.

With the exception of the Parc des Princes in Paris and Lens's Bollaert-Delelis, which are soccer-only venues, stadiums in the tournament have multiple uses as owners maximise commercial activity.

New roofing often limits natural light and wind in the stadiums, meaning pitches get moist and can cut up too easily.

Tournament director Martin Kallen expressed his concerns on Friday, although he did say that Uefa teams were responsible since the start of the competition for the stadiums and were working in coordination with local groundsmen.

However, the SGF said all the pitches in France's top tier had been deemed in "excellent condition" at the end of the season. It said UEFA's pitch consultant, Richard Hayden, was responsible for the problems.

"The consultant mandated by UEFA believed it necessary to intervene, in particular by placing non-compatible grass from an Austrian firm in the Marseille, Lille and Nice stadiums ... against the advice of French specialists.

"It is only these pitches that have problems today," the association said. "That must just be a coincidence."

(Reporting By John Irish)

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